“What is Optimism?” asked Cacambo – “Alas!” said Candide, “it is the mania for insisting that all is well when all is by no means well”.
It’s difficult to say what Candide is about. It is the most bizarre book I’ve read lately. But, I mean that in the best possible way. Perhaps the closest I can come to slotting it is to call it a farce. Voltaire is supposed to have written this book as a rebuttal of the philosophy of enforced optimism. He believed that the “all’s for the best” theorists tried only to make people endure and accept their misfortunes without complaint. Obviously, optimism is not Voltaire’s strong point.
Candide is the illegitimate son of a baron in Westphalia. His great hero is his tutor Pangloss who believes that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately, Candide’s education is cut short when he is booted out of the Baron’s household for kissing the baron’s daughter Cunégonde. Thus begins an adventure that takes Candide all over the world, to real and mythical lands. He gets flogged, recovers, gets flogged again, finds Cunégonde, loses her, commits murder, escapes, murders some more, finds Cunégonde again, loses her again, finds wealth, loses it, finds it and once more loses it, finds Cunégonde but unfortunately isn't able to lose her this time. And all this in less than 130 pages.
Candide’s world is filled with characters unlike any you will ever encounter. Almost everyone who is brutally murdered seems to crop up again, alive and well. Kings, pirates, holy men and large red sheep all weave in and out of Candide’s life. Realism is not the name of the game here. Neither is subtlety. Voltaire’s pen is vitriolic and he uses it to settle personal scores and take pot-shots at everyone from the Pope to his fellow writers.
Reading Candide is like being on an absurd roller coaster ride that never slackens from the first page to the last. Sometimes irreverent, sometimes gory and sometimes downright obscene. Candide is a fun ride, though it will leave you somewhat breathless.